I just picked up a copy of Thomas Merton’s “No Man Is an Island”. Right off the first page of the Prologue, I am intrigued:
No matter how ruined man and his world may seem to be, and no matter how terrible man’s despair may become, as long as he continues to be a man his very humanity continues to tell him that life has meaning. That, indeed, is one reason why man tends to rebel against himself. If he could without effort see what the meaning of life is, and if he could fulfill his ultimate purpose without trouble, he would never question the fact that life is worth living. Or if he saw at once that life had no purpose and no meaning, the question would never arise. [Italics mine.]
Now my apologies on behalf of the late Mr. Merton for his insensitivity to gender equality, but he wrote this in 1955.
The sentence I put in italics is quite intriguing. If only we could see without effort what the meaning of life is. Is he suggesting that this is possible, or is this strictly rhetorical? And what if we could fulfill our ultimate purpose without trouble?
Without effort and without trouble. If only.
We humans have quite the inner struggle that the “lower” forms of life are not burdened with. A bird, for example, fulfills its ultimate purpose by simply being a bird. Same with a fish or a horse or a tree.
I doubt that my dogs wrestle with the meaning of life. They seem most interested in food, walks, treats, and a little love and attention. They also stand guard against that which threatens us all, namely squirrels, bunnies, and the occasional trespasser.
To the contrary, our waking days are filled with the more complex questions of existence. Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with my life? What makes life worth living?
I love to quote from the Westminster Confessional: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Love it; love it.
But what exactly does that mean?
Do squirrels and dogs and birds and azaleas and centipedes glorify God? I most definitely believe they do. How? By simply and un-self-consciously being squirrels and dogs and birds and azaleas and centipedes. No more and no less. A bird really doesn’t know how or pretend to be anything other than a bird, now does it?
What about us humans? Can we be simply human, no posing required? Clearly we have not and never have been content with the notion of being simply human.
You see, I think that is how the whole mess started. Humankind was not content with being simply human. Instead, we wanted something more. We overreached ourselves. We wanted to be more like gods.
Did it work? You tell me. Do you think that humankind, wanting to become gods through the abuse of money, sex, and power, has become more godlike? Or less human? I think we did ourselves in. History is filled with examples of people wanting to become gods only to become less human.
So the question in front of me today is this: What would it take to be simply human? No more; no less; no posing. Just one day at a time.